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Houston Matters

What’s That Noisy Bug? Answers To Your Houston Insect Questions

Bug expert Erin Mills from the Cockrell Butterfly Center answers listener questions.

Katydids in search of a mate are often part of the cacophony of night sounds in the Texas countryside.


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Chuck, a Houston Matters listener from La Porte, was recently staying at a bed and breakfast in Stonewall, Texas, near Fredericksburg.

Just after dusk, he and his wife heard a symphony of sound from some unknown bug. So, they recorded some of the sound.

Chuck’s Noisy Mystery Bug:


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Chuck wondered if it was a katydid. So, he sent us the recording, and we played it for local bug expert Erin Mills. She’s an entomologist and the director of the Cockrell Butterfly Center at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

Turns out he was right.

“Definitely a katydid,” she said, in regard to the higher-pitched rattling sound in the foreground — set against a cacophony of night sounds, like crickets and frogs.

“At night they’re trying to attract a mate, and they’re rubbing their wings together,” Mills told Houston Matters host Craig Cohen.

In the audio above, Mills answers that and other listener questions about bugs and insects found in Greater Houston.

More Than One Kind Of Widow

Black Widow Spider
Troy Christensen
A photo of a widow spider submitted by Houston Matters listener Troy Christensen.

Listener Troy Christensen sent us a photo of an insect. It looks like a black widow spider. It's all black with an orange patch that's in a sort of an hourglass shape. Behind it is a sort of geodesic sac. So, it’s a black widow, right?

Well, Mills said this photo threw her for a loop because it definitely looks like a black widow — except for one thing.

“It’s definitely a widow, but that egg sac is the egg sac of a brown widow, which is within the same genus, but it’s a different species,” she said. “A brown widow has different markings and is lighter in color.”

That left her wondering if a black widow just happened to be in the vicinity of a brown widow egg sac. Or if it was simply a darker variety of the brown widow.

“There are darker versions that almost look like a black widow,” she said.

In Defense Of The Cockroach

A closeup of a cockroach. We’re sorry.

A listener named Kristina told us via email: "I absolutely despise roaches. Is it true that they are all over Houston?" Most people, like Kristina, see cockroaches strictly as pests to be gotten rid of.

So, we asked Mills if she can offer any defense of the value of the existence of the cockroach?

“Absolutely. They’re detritivores and decomposers,” she said, adding that the cockroaches we see in our daily lives that are often considered pests make up only a small percentage of the roaches that exist.

“They’re cleaners. So they clean up decomposing, rotting organic matter. And they’re a really, really big part of the exchange of nutrients on this planet…They actually have a really, really important job to do. And they’re just trying to clean up your house!”

Have your own insect inquiry? Send your questions, audio or photos to

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Michael Hagerty

Michael Hagerty

Senior Producer, Houston Matters

Michael Hagerty is the senior producer for Houston Matters. He's spent more than 20 years in public radio and television and dabbled in minor league baseball, spending four seasons as the public address announcer for the Reno Aces, the Triple-A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

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